The pairing of food and wine is under attack on a section of the Long Island wine trail.
Southold Town has issued a warning to wineries on the North Fork about the growing presence of food trucks on their properties in a move some see as the latest effort to stifle a popular East End business.
Town officials invited representatives from wineries to a meeting June 1, when they explained their rationale and indicated the town had already begun issuing citations, according to a memo that went to Long Island Wine Council members June 5.
Officials noted in the memo that the sale of food by parked food trucks is “not a permitted use outlined in the current code,” and told members the sale of food that’s not “directly related to a farm operation will be subject to violations.”
In an interview, Southold Supervisor Scott Russell confirmed the meeting with winery owners “to let them know what the issues are with the town,” but referred questions on the subject to board member Bill Ruland, who is the town’s liaison to its agricultural committee and also attended.
Ruland said the primary concern is that retail sales of food are being conducted at wineries that are in residential or agricultural zones, in violation of the town code.
“Certainly the issue is not the food,” he said. “The town code doesn’t permit retail sales in residential and agricultural zones.” The code doesn’t apply to “private” catered events such as weddings held at the wineries, he added.
Ruland said local restaurants and delis “have been complaining. They’re paying business taxes and the customers aren’t stopping at their establishments; they’re going to the food trucks.” The memo said the move was the result of complaints by a single, unnamed deli.
Steve Bate, acting director of the Long Island Wine Council, said the crackdown doesn’t make sense. He noted a requirement in state law that commercial wineries “shall regularly keep food available for sale or service to its retail customers for consumption on the premises.”
The town’s latest move, he said, is “another unfortunate decision by the town to restrict winery activity. This time it’s also affecting some of the food truck entrepreneurs out there, most of whom all use local products. It’s just a shame.”
Ruland said several wineries have been warned about the matter and stopped hosting food trucks. He said the limit on sales in residential districts applies to other items, too. “It’s not just food,” he said. “There was an example recently of someone wanting to hold a pocketbook festival and it’s just not allowed.”
Town code has limited allowance for food trucks, with restrictions on the amount of time they can remain in a single location. Those with a peddler’s license can stay at a location for 15 minutes or less.
Wineries have been gradually incorporating food trucks into their operations. Macari Vineyards in Mattituck has hosted a state-of-the-art food truck owned by son Eddie Macari that makes handmade pizzas using an onboard oven imported from Italy. The town cited the truck last year.
Eddie Macari said the food trailer, called Avelino, is a separate business from the family winery, and one that operates in locations throughout the East End.
“I think the state wants people to be eating while they are tasting and drinking wine,” he said, adding that an impetus for the business was his time living in Italy and the ability to “really raise the level of experience” by complementing wine with “super-high-quality food.”
Kathy Le Morzellec, president of Palmer Vineyards in Riverhead, said she regularly hosts food trucks on the property, and once even owned one. She’s not subject to the crackdown because her business is in Riverhead Town.
Still, she said, the last thing wineries want is to take away restaurant business. Most close at 5 or 6 p.m., the dinner hour. “We don’t want to be restaurants,” she said. “We just don’t want people sitting in the sun, drinking wine on an empty stomach.”
Southold has been under fire for moves some wineries see as inhibiting their business, including an attempt last year to put a moratorium on new wineries, an unsuccessful attempt to pass a restrictive winery code in December, citations that resulted in the closure of Southold Farm + Cellar in Peconic, and an attempt to establish a new events code earlier this year. Vineyard 48 was shuttered last year after a series of local citations and Croteaux Vineyards was closed for this year’s season by a zoning board decision.
Ruland called each “very separate cases,” including zoning and land-use issues. Asked if the town was unfairly targeting wineries, he said, “I don’t think that’s the case.” He encouraged winery owners to attend town meetings on the matter to make their voices heard.
Anthony Sannino, owner of Sannino Vineyard in Peconic and president of the Wine Council, said the decision to limit food trucks takes away a vital link for many wineries.
“It’s customary to have food when consuming wine,” he said. “Wine expresses itself completely differently based on food that you’re eating with it.” He said it was his understanding from the town that food “that can be handled without utensils” would be permitted.
Sannino said the town code needs to be reconceived to allow for the rise of food trucks, some of which are owned and operated by popular local restaurants such as Noah’s in Greenport and the North Fork Table. “I think the code is just simply outdated and with careful thought the town could revise the code to fit [food trucks] into the code,” he said.
David Shanks, owner of Surrey Lane Vineyards, who has filed suit against town in an attempt to expedite his stalled plan to open a tasting room on his Southold property, said the town is “really making it hard to do business, that’s for sure.”
Getting needed approvals for his plan is “taking so long now it’s getting depressing,” he said.
Asked what he’ll do if it doesn’t move forward, Shanks said, “My alternative is to open a tasting room in an area that’s zoned commercial [in town], or do what other people have done and move.”
As for allowing food trucks at wineries, Shanks considered it a no-brainer. “If people are consuming alcohol, it might be a good idea to have some food in their systems.”